By Obinna Chima and Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan
The federal government has said the demand by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is unrealistic and cannot be met.
However, as the union meets with the federal government today, the association has stated that it has lost confidence in the government for making promises it could not keep after agreements had been reached.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, who made the federal government’s position known during an interactive session with editors in Lagos at the weekend, disclosed that government would on Friday, launch a new initiative to enhance the country’s revenue. She also reeled out the achievements of the administration.
In addition, she revealed that presently, loans have been disbursed to 800,000 farmers under the Anchor Borrower’s Programme, with about N120 billion disbursed so far.
According to Ahmed, ASUU needs to face the reality that “the economy is not buoyant for us to pay them.”
The university lecturers have been on strike since November 5, 2018.
Among other demands, the lecturers are demanding the payment of their outstanding revitalisation fund of N1.1 trillion, which they insisted the government should be releasing in tranches of N220 billion to be spread over the four quarters of 2019.
But Ahmed, who was responding to a question on the matter explained, “ASUU is on a strike again, and for us in government, the strike is something that has become a matter of routine and it saddens us.
“We were told by ASUU that some years back there were some negotiations and some commitment by the previous administration to provide ASUU about N1. 1trillion. They are asking for N1.1 trillion, where will we get N1.1 trillion to give to ASUU?
“It is not realistic; so we told them the best we can is N20 billion and we gave them N20 billion last year.
“And this year also the government has also approved another N20 billion to give to them and that is being processed.”
The minister, who urged the lecturers to be understanding, noted that the deficit in the education sector cannot be addressed in one year.
“As we speak, the Accountant General is processing N20 billion for ASUU, and another N15.8 billion in what is called earned arrears.
“So, ASUU needs to face the reality that the economy is not buoyant for us to pay them N1.1 trillion. It is simply not possible. Because the resources are not available for us to do that even if they are, you have to also ask whether the university system as it is structured has that absorptive capacity.”
Continuing, she said the federal government’s whistle- blowing initiative has yielded a significant amount of returns.
She disclosed that as of September 2018, total recoveries made by the government through the policy was put at N8.5 billion, and $465 million, she said. In addition, about 1,050 investigations are currently ongoing, by the anti-corruption agency.
“And we expect significant recoveries from these efforts as well. The Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) programme closed in June 2018, it yielded revenues of N92.7 billion in declared tax liabilities, N35 billion of these have been collected, the balances we have negotiated for the tax payers to pay over a period of two years.
FG Launches New Revenue Initiative on Friday
The minister disclosed that the federal government would on Friday launch a new initiative to enhance the country’s revenue.
She explained, “We also have now, as a result of the effort, an increased tax payers’ base by five million. From the 14 million that we inherited, the taxpayer base has grown to 19 million.
“But in a country of 200 million people, this is still very insignificant. So, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Ministry of Finance and its agencies are working at various means to continue to expand the tax base.
“Other initiatives that we are working on are the asset tracing policy, the Efficiency Unit in the Ministry of Finance and the use of the government integrated payroll system as well as the continuous implementation of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS).”
She pointed out that there are still agencies that are not on the IPPIS yet, saying the government was working to finalise their inclusion.
Ahmed said the directive was that by March, all universities not yet on the IPPIS would be included.
“We have a number of initiatives that are currently ongoing. There is the presidential fertilizer initiative to which today has succeeded in revitalising 18 moribund fertiliser blending plants from 10, that were operational in 2017. “Because of this we have been able to save $150 million in foreign exchange from materials that we would have had to import for the use of these plants.
“We have been able to produce up to six million bags of fertilizers as well as saved on subsidies that used to exist on fertilizer,” she said.
We Have Lost Confidence in FG, Says ASUU
In a related development, ASUU yesterday said it has lost confidence in the federal government for making unfulfilled promises after agreements have been reached.
The union has also insisted that the government must show concrete evidence of the payment of at least N50 billion revitalisation funds for it to consider suspending the strike.
Other conditions attached to the suspension of the strike by the union include presentation of concrete evidences of the payment of the promised N20 billion earned academic allowances and showing how the balance of N85 billion will be paid with timelines.
The President of the union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, who made these disclosures while speaking with journalists in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, said members of the union have resolved that only concrete evidence of implementation of agreement signed with the union by the government would make them return to the classrooms.
According to him, while ASUU has rejected government’s proposal of N20 billion, which is to be paid in two tranches on the revitalisation of universities, the union is asking government to include the earned academic allowances into the 2019 budget which is still being worked on by the National Assembly.
The ASUU boss lamented that the country’s ruling class does not see education as a priority but prefer to create new education colonies of private educational institutions which cannot meet the needs of Nigerian children.
“We want them to pay N50 billion immediately as a sign of commitment this quarter and for the next three quarters government can pay N50 billion in each quarter. So our members have rejected the N20billion proposed by them that will be spread over two quarters in 2019. Our members have insisted on the release of at least N50 billion. In relation to earned academic allowances which they have an outstanding N105 billion our members are saying that even if N20 billion is released it should be stated clearly that it is only for ASUU members and the balance promised to be paid in four installments with attached timelines to the balance and figures.
“In 2017, this government promised to mainstream the earned academic allowances into the budget so that we won’t be coming to talk about arrears. If government had put that into the 2018 budget, we would not be talking about arrears now. Our members are saying government should take steps to mainstream it into the 2019 budget and that it is not late because they (National Assembly and executive) are still working on the budget,” he said.